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Impacts of Tech Change on People with Disability


25 July 2018 at 7:38 pm
Paul Carter
A sold-out conference in Sydney has explored the human rights implications of unprecedented technological change, particularly its impact for people with disability.


Paul Carter | 25 July 2018 at 7:38 pm


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Impacts of Tech Change on People with Disability
25 July 2018 at 7:38 pm

A sold-out conference in Sydney has explored the human rights implications of unprecedented technological change, particularly its impact for people with disability.

About one in five Australians have a disability, a significant proportion of the community needing access to technology.

Hosted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the day-long conference dedicated one of its four panel discussions on Tuesday to inclusion, involving people with disability and technology.

Pro Bono News asked one of the three panellists, AHRC disability discrimination commissioner Alastair McEwin, for his impressions of the discussion.

Alastair McEwin

McEwin said people with disability don’t need to be told what they want or need, they simply needed to be provided with the environment and tools to grow and be independent.

“We need to make sure the system is better at supporting people with disabilities to make systemic change,” McEwin said.

With that in mind, the panel explored co-designing technology with people with disability, saying it was critical if accessible technology was to become widespread.

Co-design could encompass different principles depending on context, and referred to the involvement and engagement of the users, in this case people with disability, to actively understand, explore and ultimately change the system together.

A significant advantage of the approach was it had the potential to benefit everyone, not just those with disability.

The approach was often referred to as “universal design” or “inclusive design” – making products and services that could be used by all people, without the need for specialised or adapted features.

Mobile phones were originally designed for hearing people; text messaging became widespread and popular because deaf people discovered the functionality in the 90s, proving inclusive design helped everyone.

One area McEwin was particularly monitoring was the employment space.

Innovation and technology could play a key role in challenging traditional ways of work, removing barriers to equality and participation for people with disability in the workplace.

Machine learning, artificial intelligence and human computer interaction were examples of opportunities that had challenged traditional ways of working and enabled accessibility – as demonstrated by IBM’s Content Clarifier.

McEwin said technological advancements, innovation and a “digital revolution” were already transforming the lives of people with disability, “and therefore when I think of the future I envisage a world with unlimited possibilities and opportunities”.  

It was equally important, however, to monitor these advancements to ensure people with disability were included, rather than widening a gap in the innovation cycle where disability is forgotten and not thought about from the beginning.

Also at the conference, an issues paper was launched asking how Australian law should protect human rights in the development and use of new technologies.

It asked what protections were needed when AI was used in decisions that affected our basic rights – in areas as diverse as insurance, social media and the criminal justice system.

It invited ideas on how we could make technology more inclusive of our diverse community.

Human Rights commissioner Edward Santow said: “Working collaboratively, we will develop a practical roadmap for reform in Australia.”

A discussion paper would be published in early 2019, and a final report and recommendations delivered in late 2019.

More information about the project and the issues paper is available here.



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